A little while ago, I posted this for one of Rachael Ritchey’s #BlogBattles on my old blog site. I thought that I’d complete his scene. That way you know what’s up with Mr. Valar. Or at least what’s up for now. He’s story is far from complete.
P.S.— As much as I want you all to enjoy this, I want to put out the disclaimer that this is still the rough, and first, draft of this novel. I haven’t edited it at all. You can actually see where I change his opinions on certain matters as you read. Hopefully, it all makes sense to you. Promise that later on it will.
P.P.S.— I have a title! For the series or the novel, I’m not sure yet.
P.P.P.S.—This is part one of several. Its too long of a scene to post at once.
People bumped and pushed and shoved Taneid Valar as they moved en mass across the bridge into the relative safety of the city of Hrith. City was a generous term. It really wasn’t one. There were no walls, no towers, nothing to protect its inhabitants of from the hordes behind them. Nothing besides the river which looped around it, protecting three sides while the fourth led out to the plains of Lorien via a barely maintained road. Any trained eye could see it wasn’t much. And to have any hope of surviving longer than a day, they’d have to blow the bridges. Assuming that enough powder could be found.
Valar looked over his shoulder. People, refugees all, stretched back as far as he could see in the darkening sky. Behind them, the light from fires reflected off of low lying clouds. Most of those fires marked funeral pyres for dozens of people. Burned alive in huts and houses. Crops followed, adding to the chaos, making picking off stragglers even easier. There was nothing to call it but horror. Damn it, they were farmers, not soldiers. At least most of them were. Worse yet, not everyone would make it. That would be the hardest lesson yet. Sacrifice the few in order to save the majority. But that was its own razor. A death of a thousand cuts.
He looked at the girl he clutched tight under his right arm. That wasn’t right. Senar wasn’t a girl anymore. She was a young woman in the full bloom of life. But whenever Valar looked at her, all he could see was the little child who’d come to him with a scraped knee or a bouquet of weed blossoms. Forever, that’s who’d he see, not the young woman who’d lost her mother and brother to the . . . .
Well, he didn’t know who’d done this. That was a hard truth. If he’d seen something that gave the powers behind this away, he might have been able to reason it out. As it stood, this seemed like random violence for violence’s sake. And he knew of no one interested in just that. The Immortal Lords would have removed them long ago. Nonsense like that wouldn’t benefit anyone.
Senar stumbled and Valar caught her weight without even thinking. Should anyone go down on this bridge, then their lives were in fate’s hands. No one would stop to help another soul, not when their lives were in danger. All around, people’s faces looked like frightened sheep, sent off to the slaughter house. That was exactly what Valar feared they were.
The houses of Hrith weren’t exactly hovels, but they weren’t much better. Most of them were made of clay and plaster with thatched roofs. Distant firelight glowed off none to clean white walls. Already crowded streets were further cluttered with abandoned wagons, broken water barrels, and other detritus from everyday life. Most of the residents seemed to be gone, already fled from the hordes almost upon them. Valar could only see a few people remaining as he wove he way through the hard packed streets—all of them huddled deep within their chosen coffins.
That might have been a harsh way to look at it, Valar knew, but unless they wised up and fled like the rest of them, that’s what they would become. A few times, he heard the cry of a baby or the whimper of child not yet old enough to clothe himself and he almost stopped and searched it out. He resisted, though it tore his heart apart each time. There was little he could do for them, lest he wanted to be responsible for an army of children. He had his own problems, but he silently cursed the parents who would lead their child into death. More than once, Senar looked up at him at the sounds, as if her thoughts mirrored his. At those times, he added an extra curse for the men who forced him to seem heartless to his own daughter.
Despite the press of people attempting to find safety across the bridge, the flow of people through the streets was a fitful one, with everyone stopping and going at seemingly random intervals. As they progressed through the city, Valar started to see why. With the progressively better built homes, soldiers garbed in the blue uniforms of local militia started appearing, blocking off streets and directing traffic. More than once, he saw a family try to dodge down a side street to make better time only to be pushed back by an officer here, a patrol there. Valar wondered if they were trying to help everyone or just protect the houses of those wealthy enough to deserve special treatment. He suspected the later, as occasionally he’d see a wagon stuffed to the gills escorted by soldiers down the street as the merchant or lordling and his family rode beside, a look of superiority written clearly on their faces.
A sudden boom sounded, echoing through the streets so that it was impossible to tell which direction it had come from. Most people in the crowd screamed and attempted to run in any direction but that in which they’d been heading. Cries of “Cannon” and “They’re attacking” seemed to come from every throat. A few people even dropped to their knees, clutching their heads in their hands and crying that they didn’t want to die. No one wanted to die. That was a stupid comment if Valar’d ever heard one.
That hadn’t stopped him from crouching at the noise however, still clutching onto Senar. As he returned to his full height, she looked up at him, eyes searching. “Is that—Are they here already?”
Valar shook his head. “No. It’s not possible unless we’ve been stuck in these streets longer than I suspect. Even then, I doubt that they won’t make it before sometime after daybreak tomorrow.”
Valar closed his eyes and pinched his nose. “The bridges,” he sighed. “They’re blowing the bridges.”
“All those people. . . .”
It was for the best, but he didn’t have the heart to tell her. Let her hold on to the innocence of youth, if only for minutes or hours longer. If things continued on the path it seemed set on, then she’d lose it soon enough. He wouldn’t take it from her before he had to.
“Come on. Let’s keep going.”
The pair of them wove through the crowd, taking advantage of the chaos enough to move faster than they had before. They had made it several blocks before the crowds started to close up again and they were forced to slow down again. Another boom sounded then, just as powerful and loud as the first. Less people reacted than last time, but enough reacted to allow the father and daughter to take advantage of the lull.
Two more explosions sounded by the time they’d made it through the center of town and were heading toward the exit everyone wanted. They freed up the throng a little. At least things seemed to be moving faster than they had previously. That still didn’t mean that things were moving fast. If he couldn’t have speed, then Valar would accept a steady pace. Slow but steady was better than fitful hesitation.
Just as the houses had gotten better as they had approached the center of the city, the houses slowly started to resemble those he had passed through as once they had crossed the bridge. The big difference this time, however, was the people. No longer did only bedraggled refugees fill the streets ahead, but now so did the cities wealthy. A merchant here and there tried to save his wares, trying to goad a horse drawn wagon to move imperceptibly faster. Nobles also were mixed into the throng, leaving wagons and belongings behind and trusting to servants to bring them along after. Several lay about them with riding crops in an effort to clear the crowds before them—at least on the surface. More than once, Valar heard a lord curse some commoner for touching his horse or besmirching his clothing, like there wasn’t anything more important in the world.
Such idiocy irritated Valar. It always had. They were human, just like those they abused and controlled like so many animals. He always doubted that the Immortal Lords had set them above everyone else like they claimed. Of course, to say so publicly would invite retribution. He’d seen others try and what became of them didn’t bear scrutiny. Not all lords were that way, but a good number seemed to be. But question their divine placement, even to the decent ones, and he’d not live to regret it. Best to just keep quiet.
They’d just reached the final street, the road in sight, when another explosion sounded. Valar stopped dead in his tracks, holding his breath. Senar had takedn several steps before realizing her father wasn’t with her. Fighting her way back to him through the crowd was nearly impossible and Valar only remotely noticed it, just as he barely noticed him grabbing his shirt sleeve and tugging. That explosion—no, it couldn’t be. Impossible.
Valar looked into his daughters eyes, knowing he couldn’t hide the fear that shouted in his. “Love,” he said, “Go. Run. As fast as you can. I’ll find you.”
“Father, what’s wrong?”
He could feel her hand tighten on her arm and his heart broke. He had to know, but she needed to go. Leave as fast as she could. “Go! I’ll find you in the next town, or the one after that. If I don’t, head to Bren. We’ve got kin there. My sister, your Aunt Cena. She’s a baker, down in Brown’s Folly. Find her. She knows you.”
“No, Father!” Tears welled up in Senar’s eyes. “You have to come with me. I won’t make it without you.”
Tears filled his own eyes as Valar pulled his daughter’s hand free of his jacket as softly as he could. “You can and you will. This isn’t the last you’ll see of me. I promise.” He spun her to face the direction of the crowd and pushed. “No GO!”
Senar stumbled, but the mass of people carried her away before she could turn around and come back to him. The last he saw of her was her glancing over her shoulder toward her as she was pulled away. Another explosion sounded, same as the last, quickly followed by the crash of rubble and another explosion. Valar just stood there, watching long past when he could see his daughter. Another boom, quickly followed by a second. And a third. Crashes and screams followed as he stood there, uncaring.